Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric disorders including social anxiety, generalized anxiety and panic disorder.
Common anxiety symptoms include inner turmoil, nervous behaviour, raised heart beat and trembling.
The theory behind anxiety is our flawed processing of a threat.
While it is certainly helpful to experience fear from an actual threat in times of survival, someone with anxiety in modern daily life will interpret non-threatening signals as threatening e.g. having a work deadline to meet, this can cause them to be in an unnecessarily high state of worry for an extended period of time which isn't good for your health.
While there are many pharmaceutical drugs that have been developed which can treat anxiety relatively safely and effectively, it is unfortunately also the case that these can often have negative side-effects in some people.
For these reasons, there’s a lot of people out there who are sceptical about jumping right into using medical drugs to control their anxiety, and who are curious about complementary approaches that might be more “natural”.
In this post I would like to divulge into the more 'natural' approaches one can use to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and create a healthier outlook on their worries.
Here are some of a few ways to help control anxiety:
1. Mindfulness and meditation
The practice known as “mindfulness” is simply paying full attention to what’s happening in the present moment.
It can be performed throughout the day by being “in-tune” to what you are experiencing, although it is often developed through meditation techniques as well.
Meditation is a type of mental training that aims to improve attentional and emotional control.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is detached self-observation. Think of it as becoming a “witness” rather than a “judge” of events that happen about you (sounds, inner thoughts, etc.)
Many studies provide evidence for the potential benefits of regular exercise. For example, people who exercise regularly are reported to experience lower levels of anxiety and depression. Conversely, lack of regular physical activity has been associated with an increased risk of anxiety.
Both aerobic exercise and resistance training have been reported to reduce anxiety sensitivity.
3. Gut microbiota/bacteria
Although this is a very recent line of research, some early evidence suggests a strong connection between gut microbiota and brain function.
It has also been reported that people who have inflammatory diseases of the gut e.g. IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome, gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance etc. frequently also have anxiety issues and vice versa: those with anxiety have higher rates of gastrointestinal disorders.
I would recommend trying to consume daily pro-biotics to help encourage the good bacteria in your stomach and avoiding too much sugar and processed carbohydrates.
Interestingly, some studies have reported that anxiety issues appear to follow a strong seasonal pattern – specifically, people with anxiety report worse symptoms in winter compared to any other time of year.
In one study, individuals exposed to UVA radiation showed elevated serotonin levels and reported feeling less nervous compared to those who did not receive UVA radiation.
There are a number of supplements and dietary compounds that may have potentially-beneficial effects on mood.
Here is a list of some of the best herbal supplements that can may potentially help treat anxiety:
St.John's wort - Is one of the most-studied herbs with supposed “antidepressant-like” effects, and is even widely prescribed for depression in Europe.
Fish oil's/Omega 3 fatty acids - Low levels of omega 3's have been associated with depression. According to a few early studies, omega-3s have been reported to be effective for those with clinical depression, as well as non-diagnosed individuals with depressive symptoms.
Curcumin/Turmeric - Curcumin, also commonly known as the spice 'turmeric' has been reported to reduce depressive symptoms in patients with major depression, while also being relatively safe.
Vitamin D - Some evidence suggests that vitamin D may increase the enzyme 'tyrosine hydroxylase', which is responsible for producing the 'feel good' neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine in your brain.
L-theanine - In one animal study in mice exposed to chronic social stress, L-theanine reportedly reduced anxiety-associated behaviour.
Kava root - Some very preliminary findings suggest that kava may work by improving GABA-A receptor communication, as well as by inhibiting norepinephrine reuptake.
Rhodiola rosea - Although it’s not yet known what effects this herb has on human biology, in animals rhodiola rosea has been reported to lower cortisol.
Magnesium - Magnesium deficiency has been associated with risk of depression and suicide. According to a few studies, magnesium may improve anxiolytic symptoms in people with postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Creatine - One study has reported that Creatine supplementation (3-5 g/day for 4 and 8 weeks) may lower depression and anxiety symptoms.
Lavender - Aromatherapy using Lavender was reported to alleviate depression, stress, and anxiety in a handful of studies.
5HTP - Is one of the chemicals the brain naturally uses to produce serotonin. Some early evidence suggests that the “antidepressant-like” effects of 5-HTP may be comparable to those of prescribed antidepressants.
Bacopa Monnieri - According to a handful of animal studies, bacopa has been reported to alleviate mixed anxiety-depressive disorder (in mice), and protected against acute and chronic stress.